50 pages 1 hour read

Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Talents

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1998

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Summary and Study Guide


Parable of the Talents is a 1998 novel by Octavia Butler; it is the sequel to her 1995 novel Parable of the Sower. The novel is a dystopian, science fiction narrative set in a futuristic America ravaged by the climate crisis, violence, and racial and religious persecution. Unlike many science fiction authors, Butler focuses her novel mainly on the experiences of racially diverse characters, including many Black and Latinx characters. Parable of the Talents was awarded the Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2000. This guide references the 2000 Grand Central Publishing edition.

Plot Summary

The novel is told in the alternating voices of Larkin Olamina (also known as Asha Vere), her mother, Lauren Oya Olamina, and her father, Taylor Franklin Bankole. Lauren is the founder and leader of a spiritual movement known as Earthseed, which focuses on the significance of change and adaptability, and believes that humans will eventually leave Earth behind to found new societies on other planets. Lauren grew up in Los Angeles during the 2010s and 2020s when American society was collapsing due to violence, looting, and the failure of most social, political, and economic institutions. After her home was destroyed and her entire family killed when she was a teenager, she fled and began developing the belief system of Earthseed. She met other refugees, including Bankole, and founded a community in rural California known as Acorn. At Acorn, all the community members follow Lauren’s teachings and work collectively. Lauren and Bankole became romantic partners, and Lauren gives birth to their daughter, Larkin, in July 2033.

Meanwhile, chaos, violence, and poverty continue to ravage the United States, and in 2032, Andrew Jarret is elected as the President. Jarret is also the leader of a fundamentalist religion called Christian America, and his supporters violently oppose anyone who does not follow the religion. Jarret and his followers fixate on returning America to an idealized vision of traditional values, including rooting out all other religions and promoting subservient roles for women. In September 2033, Acorn is attacked and turned into a Christian America “re-education camp,” where individuals are enslaved using shock collars, forced into brutal labor, raped, and tortured. The children, including Larkin, are taken away, and a Christian America family adopts Larkin in Seattle, where she is renamed Asha Vere Alexander.

In February 2035, Lauren and other enslaved prisoners kill their captors and escape. Lauren sends the Earthseed followers off to live independently since she no longer believes the community model of Acorn will be a safe or effective way to spread Earthseed. Lauren searches for her daughter and even goes to a Christian American Community Center, although she is terrified of being recognized and recaptured. At the Center, Lauren encounters her brother Marcus Duran, who is now a very popular Christian America preacher. Lauren confronts Marcus about what happened to her at the re-education camp, but Marcus insists that such acts are only perpetuated by a radical splinter group known as Jarret’s Crusaders and are not condoned by Christian America. He also suggests that the best way for Lauren to search for Larkin would be to become a member of Christian America, but Lauren refuses.

Lauren decides to make her way north to continue to search for her daughter. She travels with a woman named Len, who comes from a wealthy background but has been ostracized from her family and is now making her way to Alaska. As the two women travel, Lauren teaches Len about Earthseed, and when they reach Portland, Len agrees to stay with her. Gradually, they attract other followers, including the Elfords, a wealthy couple. With their help, Lauren can spread the teachings of Earthseed more widely, including making her writings publicly available on the internet. By the end of 2035, Lauren is being invited to travel around the country, sharing and discussing the teachings of Earthseed. Gradually, over time, the influence of Christian America declines; President Jarret does not get reelected, and it is revealed that he was directly involved in torturing and killing nonbelievers before his election. Earthseed becomes more and more influential and powerful, and Lauren becomes very famous.

Meanwhile, Larkin has an unhappy childhood with her adoptive parents and becomes disillusioned with the teachings of Christian America. She moves out as soon as she turns 18, and about a year later, she goes to hear the famous preacher Marcus Duran. Marcus recognizes Larkin because of her physical resemblance to Lauren: he tells her that he is her uncle but lies and tells Larkin that her parents are dead. Larkin and Marcus become very close, and he takes care of her. Larkin ends up completing a Ph.D. in history and gradually becomes curious about the Earthseed cult as it becomes more and more popular.

Around 2067, when Larkin is 34, she researches Lauren Olamina and learns that Lauren had a daughter who was abducted and never located. Since the timeline matches up, Larkin confronts Marcus and asks whether Lauren is her mother. He confirms that she is, and Larkin finally meets her mother. Lauren is very angry when she learns that Marcus lied to Larkin and has purposefully kept the two of them apart for years. Larkin is protective of her uncle and angry with her mother, even though Lauren has tried for years to find her.

Larkin and Lauren never establish a relationship and remain distant, while Larkin considers Marcus her only true family. In 2090, when Lauren is 81 years old, she witnesses the first shuttles containing Earthseed followers going into space on a settlement mission. She dies a short time later, content in her belief that the destiny and mission of Earthseed will be fulfilled.